Besides being a major part of Giant Sand and OP8, Howe Gelb has some stories he wants to tell on his own. Like Jeff Tweedy, he requires more than one entity for his vast musical output. What takes place tonight isn’t merely an acoustic set: In addition to a guitar, an electric piano and another tiny plastic keyboard, he has a tape deck that starts and stops by means of a pedal at his feet. In fact, he has a whole array of pedals that he uses to create various weird and wonderful effects, not to mention a second microphone that gives his rasping voice the megaphone effect so beloved by Tom Waits. “That’s the band these days,” he informs us with a wry smile.
Gelb’s lyrics powerfully conjure up pictures, especially on a song such as “Explore You”, telling us of “a cobbled road in Vienna” and “a moon on the horizon that promises the sun’s never rising.” On “Four Door Maverick”, he tells us “the roads out here are twice as wide, when it rains, it pours, then we slide.” Again, on a track from last year’s OP8 album: “The wind turns the skin to leather.”
The set consists mainly of songs from Gelb’s recent solo album Hisser. As such, many of the songs are tinged with sadness brought on by the death of Gelb’s close friend and fellow musician Rainer Ptacek, who played on Hisser. “When you go to view the casket, you forget all you needed to ask it,” he sings poignantly.
Which isn’t to say the show slipped into melancholia; far from it, in fact. Indeed, there was an extraordinary sense of fun running through the proceedings. Various pieces of equipment went dead at different stages throughout the night; Gelb smiled as if acknowledging he was asking for trouble employing such an unusual assortment of devices. At one of these breaks, he plays us a tape of a Hindu version of Abba’s “Dancing Queen”; on another occasion, he hilariously mimes to a piece of opera. Someone with Gelb’s track record could take themselves very seriously and we wouldn’t mind, but he refuses to. It makes the show all the more enjoyable.